Often overlooked and derided as “the gateway to Saitama,” this vast entertainment district has more to offer than you think – you just need to know where to look.
Words and Pictures by Stephan Jarvis
The Main Attractions
For the average visitor, the biggest draws of Ikebukuro are its vast array of Bic Camera stores, game centers, department stores such as Seibu and Tobu, HUB pubs (there are five scattered across both sides of the station), Sunshine-dori (which over the years has seen an invasion of more familiar high-street brands) and, of course, the Sunshine City entertainment complex. However, there’s more to Ikebukuro than just these main attractions.
A Patch of Green
One of the newer and more welcome additions is the lush, green-grassed Minami Ikebukuro Park, which reopened in 2016 after extensive renovations. A common complaint for many living in Tokyo is the lack of green spaces (at least, ones that you’re allowed to sit on). It might not win any awards for size, but along with free seating benches and the onsite Racines bistro, serving a range of freshly cooked cuisine including barbecues when the weather is good, this is a great spot to relax and take a breather.
Didn’t bring a book to read? Just around the corner from the park is the perfect site to go and pick one up. Even with today’s one-click ease of online shopping, a good bookstore catering to English reading clientele is always a welcome feature for a city, and Junkudo has a particularly impressive selection. Up on the ninth floor (which also acts as a gallery for featured artists) you can find a range of classic and modern literature, books for kids, specialist material, and magazines.
Of course, good food is also an appealing feature of many spots across Tokyo, and Ikebukuro is no exception. There are numerous highly rated ramen restaurants scattered around such as the top-notch Basso Drillman, though expect to queue for those with a more established reputation. If ramen isn’t for you, then stop by Darcy’s Beer & Burger and grab a supersized cola to accompany the impressively sized signature burger.
Cross under the tracks to the west side and the vibe changes somewhat. A little more downtrodden than the east, this area caters more to those that want to do some drinking with their eating. The pedestrianized side streets and clusters of izakayas, hostess bars and so on can make it feel a little like a sibling of the Kabukicho area of Shinjuku.
The plaza on the northwest side exit of the station, home to the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space, is a popular place for people to meet up or just hang out. It can look a little bit on the rough side due to the presence of homeless shelters gathered on the far side, but there’s generally a friendly atmosphere around the place, and there are often popup stalls and cultural events taking place during weekends and holidays so it’s worth checking ahead to see what might be going on.
Just over the road is West Gate Park, which, despite once being viewed as an
area to avoid, features the famed Malaysian restaurant Malaychan on its perimeter. One of the few places in Tokyo that’s halal certified, this eatery’s fish soup curry is well worth a try.